TENS Unit Side Effects

TENS Unit side effects to be aware of

TENS units and other electrotherapy devices have been gaining popularity lately. And it’s no wonder. TENS therapy is a drug-free, affordable way to manage and treat pain when needed. All FDA cleared over-the-counter devices are checked for safety and usability. One of the reasons why TENS is so popular and reliable as a treatment option is that it comes with very few risks. Especially in comparison to pills, which have innumerable potential side effects, TENS is very safe. Still, users should take precautions. Here are 10 TENS Unit side effects to be aware of:

1. Burn Marks

Most of the 10 side effects from TENS will come from either leaving on the electrode pads for too long or from setting the intensity level too high. However, most over-the-counter TENS units come with pre-set modes which help prevent users from making this mistake. If burn marks do occur, avoid using your TENS machine until they have healed. Use aloe vera to provide relief.

2. Skin Irritation

Sometimes if electrode pads are left on for long periods of time without checking the skin, irritation can occur. To avoid this, wash skin thoroughly before applying pads. Check skin underneath electrode pads every ten minutes making sure skin is not irritated.

3. Muscle Twitching

 When a TENS unit is turned too high, muscle twitching can occur. If this happens, turn the machine down immediately until twitching ceases. Make sure your TENS unit is turned all the way down and starts from zero each time you put it on. Only increase the intensity to fit what feels right for you. Pain is as unique as the person who suffers from it, so not everyone will benefit from the same setting.

4. Damage to Open Wounds

If TENS unit pads are placed on or too close to open wounds or damaged skin, the wound can become further irritated. The wound may also take longer to heal. Because of this, avoid placing electrode pads on or near damaged skin.

5. Potential Fetal Harm

TENS has not been tested to discover its effect on fetuses. Women who are pregnant should not use TENS near the uterus without first consulting their doctor.

6. Muscle Pain

Very few people find TENS therapy to be unpleasant. However, if you are one of the few who feel muscle pain while using TENS, chances are that you have the intensity set too high. Try a lower setting. You might also try moving the pads further apart.

7. Muscle Soreness

Again, if you experience muscle soreness the day of or the day after TENS therapy, it was probably caused by having the settings too high. Take a break from your TENS unit for a few days. When you return, be sure to start low, and only increase the intensity as you need it.

8. Facial Nerve Damage

This sounds, by far, like the most intimidating of the 10 side effects from TENS. However, the only case in which this is possible is if the TENS unit is placed on the face. It is never recommended by any manufacturer to place electrode pads on the face. To play it safe, steer clear of any area above the neck and around the throat, and you will not be in danger of this side effect.

9. Loss of Muscular Control

In almost all cases, TENS therapy can be applied throughout the day. The discrete, small machines can be placed underneath the shirt so that TENS can be applied during work, athletic activities or at home while relaxing. However, there is a small chance that while TENS is being applied, it will affect the way you feel and move your muscles. Because of this, do not drive a car or operate heavy machinery while using TENS.

10. Unpleasant Electric Shocks to the Skin

If your skin is wet when applying your TENS unit, or if the pads are not applied correctly, you may feel unpleasant shocks. Be sure to dry your skin thoroughly and to read your unit’s manual to ensure proper adhesion.

As you can see, these TENS Unit side effects are mostly due to operator error or are minimal at worst. The safety and effectiveness of TENS is why it has become the most popular way to relieve pain.


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By Mike Williams | June 28, 2016 | 10 Comments

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